Menus Subscribe Search

Family Planning Subsidies Save Taxpayer Money

• April 22, 2011 • 11:04 AM

In the recent federal budget battle, Planned Parenthood’s government stipend was on the chopping block, even though family planning saves lots of money down the road.

After Congress finally settled on a budget at the 11th hour two weeks ago, it turned out much of the drama had come down to a fine point absurd even by Washington standards: The fate of the entire government, apparently, turned on a dispute over Planned Parenthood.

This odd quid pro quo pairing — of national budgets and family planning policy — seems destined to infect much of Congress’ squabbles to come. But what, it seems worth asking, does the one have anything to do with the other?

Much, in fact — but not quite in the way Planned Parenthood foes have been thinking.

Investing in federal family planning subsidies actually saves taxpayer money (not to mention prevents abortions from happening). So if policymakers really are looking for ways to rein in government spending — especially spending on social welfare programs for the poor — spending more, not less, funding groups like Planned Parenthood seems smart.

Researchers at the Brookings Institution have found that for every dollar invested in federal family planning subsidies, the government saves more than $5 down the road.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class] “And that’s probably actually a conservative estimate,” said Adam Thomas, research director of Brookings’ Center on Children and Families.

Low-income women most likely to benefit from federally subsidized contraception are also disproportionately likely to rely on government support through services like food stamps, Medicaid or the Women, Infants and Children program. By funding contraception on the front end, government saves money later on supporting families that are the product of unintended pregnancies.

“The approach we take,” Thomas explains, “is to say, essentially, people cost money, and kids who are born whose conception was unintended are especially expensive in terms of the likelihood that the government will pay for benefits for the mother and child in the form of things like Medicaid-subsidized medical care for the pregnant mother and after the infant is born.”

That 5-to-1 calculation only reflects some government services that support a child up to the age of 5. And it doesn’t take into account other societal costs that come, for example, with higher rates of crime and delinquency that Thomas’ research suggests arise from the children of unplanned pregnancies.

By expanding access to subsidized contraception under Medicaid, Brookings has found, the nation could reduce the number of children born into poverty in the U.S. by about 2 percent. That may not sound like much, but it’s significant, Thomas says.

“The factors that contribute to child poverty or out-of-wedlock childbearing are so numerous and complex that it’s hard to make one change in one area and have a dramatic sweeping effect,” he said. “In fact, reducing kids born into poverty by 2 percent, I’m sorry to say, in comparative terms, is a pretty big effect. You’d love to be able to say ‘I found a magic pill to reduce it by 20 percent, or 40 percent,’ but those sweeping changes are few and far between.”

Investing in family planning also has an important secondary effect that should please pro-life advocates. If we were to expand the public investment in family planning by $235 million, Brookings has calculated, we could reduce the number of abortions performed each year by more than 40,000.

This statistic speaks to a little-known reality about Planned Parenthood (and one willfully distorted by politicians in Washington) – that it spends only about 3 percent of its budget performing abortion services.

“Planned Parenthood spends more money taking steps to reduce the number of abortions than it does providing them,” Thomas said.

So if more federal support for services such as those Planned Parenthood primarily provides would actually be good for the budget, and would prevent thousands of abortions, why can’t we all rally around that idea?

“In my opinion, this should not be as contentious an issue as it is,” Thomas said. “Most of the goals of people on both sides of the political spectrum could be achieved by not just sustaining but expanding family planning subsidies – including reducing abortion, saving taxpayer dollars and improving the prospects of women and children. And the fact that this is a contentious issue I think has more to do with politics than with substance.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.